Media profile: Gawker chronicles New York's celebrity lifestyle with a wry smile

Conceived as a real-time resource of local events and other listings, gossip-laden Gawker has emerged as a must-read among top reporters and other influential Gothamites.

Conceived as a real-time resource of local events and other listings, gossip-laden Gawker has emerged as a must-read among top reporters and other influential Gothamites.

One of the most talked-about new figures in the New York City media world is speaking on a spotty cell phone connection from an airport in Des Moines, IA. A baby squealing in the background and the growing hum of an airplane engine threaten to swallow the soft-spoken words of the editor of what's become a must-read among the city's journalists. Much has been made of the gulf between the real Elizabeth Spiers, a 26-year-old Alabama native, and the acid persona she's developed for Gawker, a record of life in the city The New York Times has called "voyeuristic, media-obsessed, gossipy and occasionally creepy." In a recent interview, however, she's anything but shy about defining what the site is and what it isn't. "Gawker isn't fundamentally a gossip site," she says. "There's a lot of gossip on it. It's a site about New York, about New York culture." What Gawker gawks at is Manhattan - or at least the slice of it that's dominated by celebrity and its attendant excess and banality. The subjects of its gape can run from bona fide megastars like Nicole Kidman to more media-centric celebrities like Vogue editor Anna Wintour. It also contains real estate and events listings as well as links to New York news and gossip that come couched in dry prose. Not surprisingly given the site's influential readership, Spiers receives a good deal of PR attention, much of which misses the mark. "I get a lot of pitches from PR people who don't read the site," she says. "They send us stuff that isn't relevant." Although much of Gawker is concerned with celebrities, those items, filed under the heading Gawker stalker, aren't generated by PR people. They're contributed by readers who, Spiers says, often adopt the site's "snarky tone." She adds, "We don't get pitches from celebrity publicists, which is good because we don't really want them." Product pitches, too, won't get very far. "Gawker is not very product-focused," Spiers says. "We don't do a lot of service journalism and we don't really push product." The site does have a To-Do List, which is basically an events list, and it features a melange of goings-on, from music to restaurant openings. Gawker was conceived, says Nick Denton, president of Gawker Media, as a real-time version of New York magazine or The New York Observer, and it often adopts similar slants. But, he adds, the site's independence allows it to bring an edge to the crowded world of celebrity and media gossip. "It adds a little bit of bite," he says. "The cost base of an online publication is low enough that you're not so dependent on advertisers that you have to suck up to them all the time and play it safe." Still, despite a passive approach to ad sales, the site has been successful in picking up a few advertisers. Denton says he's planning a more proactive ad sales effort for September, but he isn't sure whether the benefits will justify the cost. One thing that's certain is that he can pitch advertisers a golden readership demographic: over 85% are university graduates and 30% are in households with over $100,000 in income - or, as Denton puts it, "rich, young, online Manhattan." Traffic on Gawker has grown to over a million page views a month since its December launch, the beneficiary of what Spiers describes as "a slow buzz." "Whatever you do with media commentary, media being a narcissistic industry, people pay more attention to it," she says. "There have been a lot of media people and journalists reading it from day one." The site has garnered some attention for an editorial policy that's admittedly shallow and perhaps best summed up in the frequently asked questions section: "Gawker is dedicated exclusively to frivolity and excess. I do, on occasion, stare into the existential abyss, ponder the nuances and shudders, and produce what some might refer to as 'serious thoughts.' You will never see these on Gawker." But Denton warns readers not to take this too seriously. "Gawker is more intelligent than it lets on in many ways," he says. "It's almost like a game you're playing with the readers. First, you self-deprecate; you say you're flighty, shallow, and superficial. When that expectation is set, they can be surprised by some of the depth of the commentary. It's kind of ironically shallow." ----- Contact list E-mail President, Gawker Media Nick Denton Editor, Gawker Elizabeth Spiers

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